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Useful And Fantastic: The Qcumber Shop

...One morning, as Jenni was putting change in the till, she saw a little drawer underneath the cash drawer that she had never seen before.

She pulled it open, and in the drawer lay a little posy of spring flowers, all pretty and pink...

Val Yule tells a wonderful, magical life-enhancing story for childen aged fom 2 to 92.

Once upon a time, long ago, in a land far away, there was a queue.

There were many queues.

People lined up in one long queue to buy their bread. Then they lined up in another queue to buy their cabbage. Some days there were other things, and then the people queued for these too. But mostly one shop sold bread, one shop sold cabbage, and one sold Qcumbers.

Jenni sold the Qcumbers. Every morning the first people in the queue could buy one Qcumber each. The people in the middle of the queue could buy half a Qcumber each. Near the end, people could only buy a slice of Qcumber each.

This made Jenni sad. She asked the men who brought the Qcumbers in a truck if they could bring more, or something else as well, but they said, "Impossible."

She wrote to the farm in the south where the Qcumbers grew, but they never wrote back.

Jenni thought and thought, and wished and wished.

One morning, as Jenni was putting change in the till, she saw a little drawer underneath the cash drawer that she had never seen before.

She pulled it open, and in the drawer lay a little posy of spring flowers, all pretty and pink.

"How did that get there?" was Jenni's first thought.

"How nice that will look in my room tonight!" was her second thought. She put the flowers in a cup of water on the shelf.

When the first lady in the queue saw the spring flowers, her crinkly face beamed. "What pretty flowers!" she cried.

"You shall have them," said Jenni, and gave her the flowers. "You are such a kind old lady." Then Jenni thought, "Oh, dear, what have I done! I've given away my pretty flowers."

The lady went out with the posy hidden in her bag with her Qcumber, and a big smile on her face.

Jenni opened the drawer where the posy had been. To her surprise, it was not empty.

There in the drawer lay another posy of spring flowers, all pretty and white.

"I've got some flowers for myself after all," thought Jenni. She put them in the cup. The next customer was a big man in a flat cap. A big tear rolled from one of his faded blue eyes as he saw the flowers. "They remind me of my little wife," he said.

"You shall have them," said Jenni. "They are a memory for you." The man thanked her, and went out of the shop with the posy in his bag with his Qcumber, and wiping a tear from his other eye.

"Oh dear," thought Jenni. "That's my flowers gone twice."

Impulsively, she opened the drawer again - and it was not empty. There was a third posy of spring flowers, all pretty and red. "Magic!" thought Jenni, and put them on the shelf, determined not even to look at the third customer, while she wrapped up another Qcumber in an old copy of Hammurabi's Traffic Rules.

But what happened? The third customer was a tired, pale woman, who smiled when she saw the flowers. "Red flowers for love," she said.

"You shall have them," said Jenni. "You shall have love and roses." The woman gasped, and a rose came into her cheek. She put the posy in with her Qcumber and hurried away, full of thanks.

"Silly me! My last chance has gone!" thought Jenni. But ... she opened the drawer... and then...

You will have guessed. More flowers. And everyone who came in deserved to have a posy for one reason or another. Jenni kept kicking herself, as she gave away spring flowers ,blue, gold, violet, rainbow. Everyone who came, even if they could only buy one slice of Qcumber, went away with a posy.

At evening, the drawer was empty. Jenni went home with no flowers for her own room.

*

Next morning, she came in early - and the drawer was still there. The queue at the door was twice as long as yesterday Jenni quickly opened the drawer. There were no flowers.

But there was a tiny bottle. Jenni opened it. It had a lovely perfume of narcissus. She put the tiny bottle in her pocket. "My room will smell lovely. This shall not be given away."

"What a lovely smell of flowers!" said the thin man first in the queue. So what did Jenni do? She put her hand in her pocket and gave him the bottle. "You shall have the scent; you deserve it for all you do for your sick family," she said. And could have kicked herself.

But - there was another tiny bottle in the drawer - smelling of lavender . . All day it went on, pretty much the same as the day before. Every customer was so weary, or kind, or hard-working, or worried, or gentle, that every one was given a tiny bottle of fragrance - jasmine or roses or hyacinth, or spice, or frangipani, or eucalyptus or honeysuckle - until the shop smelt like a marvellous garden - very different from the usual smell of Qcumber peel and poor people's boots. Jenni had nothing to take home.

*

Next morning, the queue was longer still. Jenni hurried to look for the drawer. It was still there. She opened it trembling. There was a tiny pot of parsley. The first customer was a girl with broken shoes. Jenni gave her the parsley.

"Oh, " cried the child." What neat and pretty crinkly leaves it has! How fresh it smells!"

"It will make your potatoes taste good," said Jenni, as the girl ran out to the potato-shop queue.

That day, the drawer had little pots of all sorts of herbs - basil, and origano, and thyme, and rosemary, and mint, and tarragon . . . And there was always some reason why every customer who came in should have a pot of herbs to take out. The queue was so long that Jenni had had to slice up all the Qcumbers to make them last out, and she was so tired she wished that she had a pot of herbs left to take home, to put a leaf into her own cabbage and Qcumber soup.

Three magic days had gone.

Could the fourth day be magic too?

*

Jenni ran to the shop. The queue wound twice round and round the square. Jenni let herself in, and ran to the drawer. Inside was a tiny woven basket with a strawberry plant inside, that had a strawberry and six flowers. "I must keep this!" whispered Jenni.

Jenni did not keep the strawberries. There was a poor man who helped sick people, then a girl who spent her holidays playing with lonely children, then a boy queueing to buy a cucumber for his old neighbour. Everybody deserved a strawberry basket, and everybody got one - Jenni could not keep one for herself.

Then a man came in wearing a tidy suit but somehow looking very untidy. Jenni did not offer him a plant.

"Where's my plant!" cried the man. "Everybody else has a plant!"

"I haven't got a plant for you," said Jenni. There was a plant in the drawer, but Jenni did not see why she should give it to the untidy-tidy man.

Spotil was annoyed. "Give me my plant like the others."

"I don't have to give you a plant," said Jenni, reasonably. "I've sold you your Qcumber slice."

"It's not fair," said Spotil. "You're giving them to everyone else. Give me one."

Jenni said," I know you must wish I did give you one, but it is not unfair."

Spotil changed tack. "Where did you get them from? You've stolen them!"

"I have not stolen them, and I do not have to tell you about them. " said Jenni.

Spotil went out growling. Jenni gave the next strawberry plant to the next customer.

Spotil brought back four officers of the watch to arrest her.

"What have I done?" cried Jenni.

"Sorry, damsel," said the chief officer. (It was a long time ago.) "You are accused of having flora without the proper documents."

But when the officers looked in the shop they found no plants. The drawer was empty. They put Jenni into a wheeled black box with a small grilled window in it.

"Help me!" cried Jenni to the queue outside the shop. The people in the queue shuffled and goggled, but did not know what to do. Jenni was wheeled away to the big Bastille prison, and put into a dark but fortunately not noisome cell.

Back in the queue everyone was wishing they could have helped Jenni. Susa and Barco, two teenagers, saw the shop was quite empty except for Qcumbers. They thought they could help Jenni by selling the Qcumbers for her. All the customers looked as if they hoped there might be something else, but they said nothing.

At the end of the day Susa and Barco were ready to lock up the shop with the key behind the door. Then Susa saw the little drawer underneath the till drawer. She opened it.

In it was a big brass key.

"It's old and very strange - it’s not Jenni's house-key," said Susa.

Barco said. "I think all those flowers and plants could have been magic. This drawer may be magic. This key may be magic."

Would it be the key to Jenni's prison? they both thought at once.

They ran to the Bastille. Very tall tough guards guarded the great studded black door. They had their pikes at the ready, and their noses in the air to keep the chinstraps of their helmets on their chins. Their eyes gazed straight ahead. Susa and Barco were much shorter. They walked right under the noses of the guards, through the gate, and through a tunnel, walking under the noses of many other guards.

The key Susa carried in her pocket was labelled G156. They looked for room G156. They slipped the key in the lock, it fitted, they opened it quickly and ran in.

And there in front of them - - was not Jenni at all, but a large man in a royal blue suit looking very important sitting at a desk with his hand on a button on the desk. He was the Commander of the City! There was had a framed notice to that effect carved in black wood, sitting on the desk, facing everyone who came in. He looked at them.

Susa and Barco told the Commander at once that they were looking for someone who had been wrongfully imprisoned. The Commander asked the guards for the files. It did not take more than forty minutes before a pile of files were wheeled in on a sort of hospital trolley full of pigeonholes.

The top file showed that Spotil the Spotter had laid a complaint. The Commander thought, briefly.

He decided that Jenni should be set free and observed, so that any more presents she gave away could be traced to where they came from. "The Academy of All the Sciences would be fascinated if what you two young people say is true. We need more flora in this country that cost no-one anything!"

Jenni was set free from Dungeon BB630 - where Susa and Barco could never have found her. She hurried back with the guards to her shop, while Susa and Barco ran on to school. The shop was empty. Jenni ran in and went to the till.
There was no drawer under the till-drawer . .

*

Next day more Qcumbers came.. But there was no drawer under the till-drawer. No little something to take home for her bare room, now.

The customers started coming in. Jenni sold the first Qcumber, and the customer brought out a posy of blue flowers from under his coat. " When I put my flowers in water, the plants started to grow, and now I have more flowers!" he said.
"These are for you."

The next customer bought her Qcumber, and brought out a clutch of strawberries from her bag. "Do you know, when I watered my box, more strawberries started growing. These are for you."

The next customer bought her Qcumber, and felt in her pocket. She brought out a tiny medicine bottle. "I don't need my medicine any more. When I left your bottle in my room, the room filled with blossom perfume - and here is some of it for you.''

Soon Jenni had so many gifts from customers that when someone came in who had never come on one of the magic days, Jenni could give them a sprig, or a posy, or a bottle. At the end of the day, she had more than she needed herself. She gave some to Susa and Barco. Then she had an idea.

She gave flowers to the Qcumber lorry-drivers when they brought more Qcumbers the next morning. They were delighted.

Next day, more gifts came in, and Jenni was able to give more gifts of flowers and perfume and posies and herbs to the people in the queue who had none - and she sent the rest for the drivers to give to the people who grew the Qcumbers.

The growers were delighted. Next day they sent six boxes of tomatoes along with the Qcumbers. The customers were delighted. They brought in more gifts that had grown from their presents.

And now this story is long enough. But that is not the end. There is more of in the drawer where this one came from.

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